By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The regional body that holds the  final local control on road projects in the area has held the first of two public hearings on whether funding should be allocated to the

Western Bypass

of U.S. 29.

Sixty people spoke at the hearing Thursday before the

Metropolitan Planning Organization

. Roughly two-thirds were opposed to the road.

“This is not a bypass,” said Albemarle County resident Bob Button. “It starts in a heavily developed area near the

University of Virginia

and it ends in an even more heavily developed area at

Forest Lakes


The MPO met in Albemarle County’s Lane Auditorium to accomodate the large number of public speakers

The hearing was the first of two required before the MPO can amend its

transportation improvement program

(TIP) to remove language that blocks construction funding from being allocated to the project.

The MPO must also alter its

long-range transportation plan

to include the project, which is estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.

So far, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton has not released details on the source of the funding, but the item is on the agenda of next week’s meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

In June, the CTB adopted a six-year plan that did not include additional funding the bypass.

Last month, Connaughton sent a letter to Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, indicating he would ask for $196 million for the bypass and $34 million for widening of U.S. 29.

“We are required to have full funding assurance before those amendments and that requires CTB action,” said

Stephen Williams

, the executive director of the

Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission


Tulane Patterson, the chair of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, pleaded with the MPO to support the road.

“U.S. 29 is a major highway that serves all the major communities on the corridor,” Patterson said. “For Danville, Lynchburg and Altavista, this is our interstate highway.”

City resident Beth Ike suggested that the bypass was only being considered for political reasons.

“It’s an election year, and the normally slow cogs of government are moving alarmingly fast,” Ike said.

She added she was concerned money spent on the bypass would take away from projects needed in congested areas like Hampton Roads.

Following the public hearing, Supervisor

Duane E. Snow

said he would no longer refer to the project as a bypass, but instead would begin calling it a connector road.

“For all those people who come down 29 to UVa on a road that comes right to a parking garage, it’s going to be major,” Snow said.

After the public hearing, the MPO agreed to send a letter to the CTB explaining the conditions under which it will support a bypass. The projects include funding of ramp improvements at the interchange of U.S. 29 and U.S. 250, funding for the extension of

Hillsdale Drive

and design of a bridge for the extension of Berkmar Drive, as well as funding to replace the aging

Belmont Bridge

in 2014.

“We don’t know how much money there is or where it will be coming from,” Snow said. “This is just a letter to say what we want and what we expect.”

A second public hearing will be held on July 27 to consider amending the long-range plan and the TIP.

City Councilor

Kristin Szakos

said in an interview after the meeting she would vote against the bypass because the public process had been evaded.

“It should be what we set as priorities with our public process and the whole process of regional planning,” Szakos said. “We can horse trade all we want for the things we should have had in the first place.”

Huja agreed with the decision to send the letter.

“All of these projects would be good if we could get the funding, but this does not imply that I will support a bypass,” Huja said.

George Larie, a member of the

Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition

, directed his comments towards

James Utterback

, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District and a votingmember of the MPO.

“I strongly suggest you are under pressure to resolve the tie,” Larie said referring to the 2-2 split in the city-county MPO votes. “An issue this contested should not be decided by a state agency employee.”

Williams said there is a chance the CTB will not be able to reach agreement at its meeting next week as to how  to reallocate money from other projects. That would mean the MPO could not vote to amend the TIP at the July 27 public hearing.


Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.